The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Smear—A Book Review

If there was ever any question about blatant left-leaning media bias, Sharyl Attkisson has put it to rest in her book, The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote. She combines a discussion of the shadowy denizens of "the swamp" who conduct opposition research to forward a left (or right)-wing narrative, along with how those denizens use a compliant media to promulgate and expand that narrative. She discusses the hundreds of millions of dollars that are spent to perform these tasks and the manner in which they are used by political parties and corporations to shape public sentiment.

Attkisson, a professional who admits she leans slightly left, is one of a relatively few truly unbiased investigative journalists working in the United States, does an outstanding job of breaking down "the smear" and how it shapes the news we get, the prevailing attitudes we have, and the outright corruption and unprofessional conduct of a significant majority of mainstream media outlets.

She summarizes the current state of media affairs with this comment on the politics of 2016:
Not a day goes by without the voting public getting pummeled by countless narratives—some based on grains of truth; others wholly invented for the audience. Racist, Wall Street lackey, crooked, liar, cheat, white nationalist, socialist, womanizer, misogynist, corrupt, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-immigrant, basket of deplorables, fraudster, loser, alt-right, delusional, dangerous, mentally ill, pay-for-player, and tax cheat. Assisted by ideologues, shady political operatives, and dark Internet outfits seeking moneymaking clicks, Campaign 2016 shatters all records in the smear department."
But the interesting issue is what lies behind all of this. Attkisson emphasizes the problem with a few quotes from the infamous Nazi propagandist, Joseph Goebels, who wrote:
  • "A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”
  • "Not every item of news should be published."
  • "Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.”
  • “The truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
  • “It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion.”
  • “Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.”"
Spend a few seconds thinking about how the state of main stream media reporting over the past decade conforms almost exactly to the principles espoused in Goebel's quotes.

Attkisson creates a new term, "transactional journalism" and then defines it in this way:
Transactional journalism refers to the friendly, mutually beneficial relationships that have developed between reporters and those on whom they report. It’s when the relationships cross a line beyond chumminess and the players strike clandestine business deals, whether formally or implicitly, to report on people and topics a certain way. Reporters may offer favorable treatment in exchange for getting a “scoop.” They may agree to let an interview subject dictate terms when it comes to topic and timing of publication. They may promise to ask some questions and avoid others. They may carry on cozy relationships that allow their reporting to be influenced in ways they don’t disclose to the public. Usually reporters afford the most favorable treatment to those with whom they are ideologically in synch. All of this crosses an ethical line, in my opinion.

Transactional journalism results in a perverted dynamic. Public officials manipulate the press into competing to be first to receive government and political propaganda—self-serving rumors or press releases promoting agendas or smearing opponents. The reporter who’s first to publish these handouts gets a hearty pat on the back from colleagues. “Great get!” they say. In the news business a “great get” used to mean that you, as a reporter, got an exclusive story as a result of your ingenuity, shoe-leather journalism, and persistence. Today it simply means you’re the recipient of a White House or political party leak ...

Transactional journalism has become key to a smear artist’s ability to formulate a Truman Show–esque alternate existence all around us. As with astroturf, it’s a vehicle to create a smoke screen, making narratives appear to be organic, hard-nosed journalism when they’re the exact opposite.
For many years I have referred to the thousands of "journalists" that populate the generally left-leaning mainstream media as "trained hamsters". The trained hamsters are masters of transactional journalism. And it's not as if they participate unknowingly. Because of their obvious bias, they participate in the smear with enthusiasm and are rewarded by their peers and celebrated with media awards even though their professionalism and ethics are highly questionable. They are, in effect "democratic operatives with bylines." [Glen Reynolds]

Attkisson focuses on Media Matters and the dozens of affiliated groups as examples of how the smear industry works. The person behind Media Matters is David Brock, once a right-wing operative who transitioned himself into the left-wing advocate as the Clintons ascended to power. Media matters, often quoted as a legitimate source of news, is a corrupt and very often dishonest smear shop. It does opposition research, funded with tens of millions of dollars from Democratic fat cats, then passes that research on to enthusiastic pro-Democrat media who disseminate it as actual news. Attkisson sites dozens of instances where this has happened, follows the money from big donors all the way to political candidates and into the pockets of Brock and his associates, and provides case after case of clear, irrefutable evidence of the influence of Brock's smear empire.

But Media Matters does far more than interact with the trained hamsters. It creates boiler rooms of paid employees with the specific intent of shaping the conversation on social media. It uses hundreds or even thousands of dummy accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms, with the objective of trolling in a manner that shuts down social media threads that don't serve the narrative preferred by its masters.

Attkisson then goes on to provide a template for how politicians (e.g., The Clintons) use Brock and others to muffle potential scandals before they can be reported fully or investigated. Examples abound from the Obama years: the Benghazi scandal, the IRS scandal, Fast and Furious, and many others. She details how the federal agent who was the whistleblower for Fast and Furious (Obama administration-sponsored gun-running across the Mexican border) was "controversialized" and ultimately almost destroyed by the smear shops. The intent, of course, was to negate his testimony and ultimately make the scandal go away. The train hamsters of the mainstream media we're only too happy to oblige. The smear shops succeeded. Today, the same smear shops are successfully blunting the impact of at least five major scandals, because each involves the Democrats.

Attkisson describes how specific media personalities collude with Democrat politicians to shape the news in favor of the Democratic Party. One example among dozens is the manner in which PBS and the Democrats coordinated Hillary Clinton's flip-flop on the TPC trade deal. Another is the manner in which John Harwood of CNN coordinated with contacts in the Democratic party to ensure that he asked the right questions during an interview with Jeb Bush. His activities were both unprofessional and unethical.

The Smear is a deeply troubling book. It describes the rot that has set in throughout the main stream media and the shadowy people behind the celebrity "journalists and commentators" who encourage the rot to spread and deepen.

Sharyl Attkisson's, The Smear, has revelations on almost every page; it breaks down the smear process so one can recognize it as it is happening; it names names; it cites clear and irrefutable evidence of media bias and collusion, and it follows the money. It is, in short, an full-blown indictment of the media landscape in 2017.